In theory: Brainstorming

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

Since the 50s, the notion of 'brainstorming' has been mooted as an excellent way for managers to free up the way in which their staff think. And you'd be wrong to presume that it's just for those flaky ad agency creatives, who spend their days lolling about on beanbags, chucking out any ludicrous idea that springs to mind.

Brainstorming matters to every manager because too much administration and paper-pushing can lead to a body of stultified staff. It's refreshing sometimes to 'think outside the box'. It gets your creative juices going and can lend a different perspective to entrenched problems. As a manager, you want the people who work for you to be nimble, creative powerhouses who can solve any problem thrown at them. This is particularly pertinent for the charity sector, where the creative use of resources is part and parcel of daily life.

So what does brainstorming actually mean? The idea is for a group of people to come together and produce ideas in a criticism-free environment. Using many brains rather than just one to blitz a problem is thought to be an efficient way of creating quality results. By casting off the shackles of process and throwing aside the straitjacket of bureaucracy, latent wells of creativity can be liberated. If beanbags and wacky toys help the process, then good for you.

There are four basic rules. First, suspend judgement of the spouted ideas. Second, record all ideas, even if they sound ridiculous. Third, encourage secondary ideas to develop. Finally, be ready to think outside the box. Once the ideas have dried up, the best ones should be whittled down and taken further.

People like a brainstorm because it's fun, but research in recent years casts doubt on whether or not it's everything it's cracked up to be. The best ideas, it is said, often come from leaving people to their own devices, rather than forcing ideas from them in a creative hothouse. But where's the fun in that? Quick, grab a beanbag and a doughnut, and join the huddle.

Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today magazine.

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